This afternoon I made a cup of yaupon tea from the leaves of one of the shrubs that’s growing in my backyard. As I write this I think that the caffeine buzz has begun to hit me. Yaupon holly, a relative of Yerba Mate, is the only native North American plant that contains caffeine.
Yaupon has the unfortunate scientific name of Ilex vomitoria. According to Charles Hudson, in his introduction to the book Black Drink: A Native American Tea, the scientific name derives from yaupon’s association with purification ceremonies that involved ritual vomiting. But the tea of yaupon itself, at least when drunk in moderate amounts, does not cause vomiting.
I first tried making yaupon tea last fall and while I made a tasty tea, I didn’t experience the caffeine high like I am right now. I did three things differently this time. First, I only cut new, lighter green growth, not mature growth. Second, I mashed the leaves in a mortar and pestle prior to roasting. And third, I roasted the leaves for 8 minutes at 300 F instead of 8 minutes at 400F.
After roasting the crushed leaves and allowing them to cool for a few minutes I crumbled enough of them to fill one TBS. Then I steeped these leaves in one cup of boiling water for five minutes. The resulting beverage had a light green color, much like green tea with a grassy aroma. The infusion did not have as much body as a green tea but was not weak either. I found it refreshing and without the bitterness of yerba mate. It had just a hint of roasted flavor; not too much to overpower the other flavors. About twenty minutes after drinking it, an almost euphoric caffeine effect began.
Yaupon has the additional benefit of being a great landscape plant in Austin and much of the south and southeast. I’m slowly growing a hedgerow along the back fence that will also provide me with an occasional alternative to coffee.
Important Note: Eric Toensmeier has some good advice in his book Perennial Vegetables about trying new foods: “Some caution is in order when trying new food for the first time. You can never be entirely certain how your body is going to react. … You can never know if you are going to be allergic to a new food. Even such ordinary foods such as corn, soybeans, and peanuts can cause serious allergies in some people. When trying a new food plant it is prudent to proceed slowly, particularly if you are prone to food allergies.”